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Belichick decision looms amid coaching changes

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft are expected to meet soon to discuss their futures. Although many around the league expect that a change will come in New England, the sides apparently have not yet talked about a split at any point this season, sources told ESPN.

Belichick's future in New England is one of several unresolved coaching situations that teams face as they enter the final week of the regular season:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: It's not what Kraft has said throughout the course of the season. It's what he hasn't said.

Kraft hasn't publicly declared that Belichick is his coach moving forward and that he will return next season -- nothing like it. Everyone around the NFL is waiting for a divorce to happen, but neither Kraft nor Belichick has acknowledged that the relationship could be broken off.

It feels like the end of an era to many around the league -- that Belichick could be coaching his final game for the Patriots in Sunday's home game against the New York Jets.

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What a run it has been for Kraft, Belichick and the Patriots organization as a whole -- historic, legendary, incredible. Multiple signs point to this being the end for the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach, but there has been nothing from either side.

It is uncertain how this will play out and when a decision will be official, but few expect Belichick to be fired. He has accomplished too much to be met with a fate like that, and there are more questions about how and when Kraft and Belichick would part ways if that is in fact what they decide to do.

Former Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said, "I wanted my team back," when he fired longtime coach Dan Reeves after the 1992 season. Many people around the league say Kraft now wants his team back, and in the event of a split, Belichick immediately would become one of the top available head coaches.

It's hard to imagine that Belichick wouldn't want to continue coaching; he is a football lifer, and coaching is what he does. If he is not wanted in New England, which is the suspicion of many, then Belichick soon will be interviewing to become a head coach elsewhere.

TENNESSEE TITANS: Despite speculation that the Titans are not expected to undergo significant change this offseason, there are expected to be organizational meetings between coach Mike Vrabel and the team's decision-makers to determine whether any notable changes will be made, league sources told ESPN.

There are people around the league who think that either Vrabel would be open to be moved to another team or that the Titans would be open to moving him -- maybe both.

Vrabel publicly has said he wants to remain in Tennessee, but others have wondered how content he is.

Until there is further word that there will not be change, it is possible that there might be some with the Titans organization. Meetings that likely will happen this week will help determine the direction that Vrabel and the Titans go, but the situation in Tennessee currently is not settled, according to sources.

WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: Ron Rivera will be celebrating his 62nd birthday Sunday, and the organization would be wise to respect its coach's birthday.

But changes are expected at some point early next week, according to league sources, which comes as a surprise to nobody.

New owner Josh Harris is expected to start over after paying $6.05 billion for the franchise last summer. Washington is expected to commence an exhaustive and comprehensive search to try to find the right people to help restore a franchise that has been one of the worst in the NFL over the past two-plus decades.

Harris is not expected to spare any expense in deploying the right people to find the right people to lead this franchise forward.

Ron Rivera turns 62 on Sunday as he completes his fourth season with the Commanders, but changes are expected in Washington. AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Additionally, if they lose Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, the Commanders would secure the No. 2 pick and the ability to land one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2024 NFL draft -- just one more element that would make the Washington job that much more appealing to candidates.

DALLAS COWBOYS: There continues to be a feeling from people around the league, and even some within the Cowboys organization, that coach Mike McCarthy will be measured by how Dallas' final game goes.

If the Cowboys play well in the postseason, McCarthy would have an excellent chance to keep his job. But if they struggle and end the season with an embarrassing loss, as has happened in each of the past two years, then some say that change could come to Dallas.

The situation remains unsettled either way, and both the Cowboys and McCarthy -- fairly or unfairly -- have plenty to prove Sunday against Washington and then in the postseason.

The other factor is what the Cowboys will do with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has interviewed for and been offered head-coaching jobs in each of the past two offseasons. Quinn has stayed with Dallas out of loyalty, because he felt strongly about the organization.

But there is a question about how long that will last and whether Dallas could coax him back for yet another season, which could factor into any decisions this team makes. The Cowboys do not want to lose Quinn, according to sources, and there are questions about what Dallas would be willing to do to keep him.

ATLANTA FALCONS: Owner Arthur Blank knows and has acknowledged that he has a heavy decision to make about whether he wants to make any significant organizational changes.

Blank is said to have gone back and forth, and to be torn, according to sources. He is a fan of coach Arthur Smith, one of the brighter offensive minds in the game, but that might not be enough for Atlanta to stand pat.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is a fan of coach Arthur Smith but is said to be torn over whether to make major changes, according to sources. AP Photo/John Bazemore

The Falcons have been surveying the coaching landscape, mulling what options are out there should they decide to make a change, according to league sources.

This is a team that has been built with talent in many places, except at quarterback. And the lack of stability at quarterback could influence whether there is stability in the rest of the organization.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Owner David Tepper already has fired coach Frank Reich and some of his assistant coaches. Many now expect that general manager Scott Fitterer will be next, according to league sources.

To help him guide his franchise for the future, Tepper has been working with the consulting firm Sportsology, led by former Chelsea FC executive Mike Forde. Should he fire Fitterer, Tepper then would have a clean slate to offer a prospective head coach and GM, though Panthers assistant GM Dan Morgan also has support within the organization, according to sources.

Whoever takes over, this team has issues it must overcome. Carolina traded its 2024 first-round draft pick -- which became the No. 1 overall selection -- to the Chicago Bears last year to be able to draft Bryce Young, who has endured a difficult rookie season.

The Panthers are missing other offensive playmakers and have a shaky offensive line that they need to restore and rebuild. Tepper is ready and willing to spend, but there are major holes and concerns to address.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The Saints have assembled a team they feel is strong enough to win the NFC South, and signs point to coach Dennis Allen being safe, according to a source.

But if they don't win the division Sunday, then the organization's decision-makers will sit down to mull how they can get this team to where they believe it belongs.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby came out this week and said he wants Antonio Pierce to be retained as the Raiders' head coach. Pro Bowl wide receiver Davante Adams said the same, adding that all players on the team want Pierce to return.

Raiders owner Mark Davis is said to be a big fan of Pierce's -- as he should be. The question will be whether there is another candidate, such as Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, who tempts Davis enough to bypass Pierce.

Even if they wanted to hire Pierce, the Raiders still would be required by NFL rules to conduct a full search and go through the complete process, which would constitute complying with the Rooney Rule.

Multiple Raiders players, including Pro Bowlers Maxx Crosby and Davante Adams, have publicly endorsed Antonio Pierce for the full-time coaching job. Steve Marcus/AP Photo

At a team meeting this week, Raiders coaches and staffers were told that they would not be blocked from looking for other jobs, but that the organization wanted to be kept in the loop on any potential opportunities, according to league sources.

Some took this to mean that Pierce and GM Champ Kelly are not locks to have their interim tags removed, according to sources. If they were a lock, the Raiders would want Pierce and Kelly to retain many of their assistants, the same ones who now have permission to seek employment elsewhere.

Still, Pierce and Kelly have done enough to prove they warrant serious consideration to become full time at their current jobs. The question is whether Davis will agree.

The last time he had a successful interim coach, Davis made a change. Despite the fact that Raiders players wanted Davis to retain then-interim coach Rich Bisaccia and make him full time, Davis opted to hire Josh McDaniels as his head coach and Dave Ziegler as his GM in 2022 -- only to fire them on Halloween eve this season.

Davis doesn't care about the money he owes Jon Gruden, McDaniels and Ziegler or what it would take to lure another coach and GM. He just wants to hit and have this organization win. Not that Davis won't conduct a thorough interview process, but Pierce and Kelly already have more than their fair share of supporters. They still need the biggest supporter, Davis, to sign off to make their hirings official.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Having already fired coach Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco, Chargers president of football operations John Spanos is spearheading a search for the team's next coach and GM.

The big established names -- Belichick and Harbaugh -- make the most sense for what this organization might need, but the Chargers are casting a wide net, being exhaustive in their search, and are not thought to have any favorites for the job at the moment, according to league sources.

The Chargers can offer elements that no other team can: They play in Los Angeles, are opening a new quarter-of-a-billion-dollar training facility by this summer and have one of the game's best young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. But it is imperative for the Chargers to match Herbert with a coach who can allow him to reach his potential.

CHICAGO BEARS: There has been no official word from ownership or team president Kevin Warren, but signs point to coach Matt Eberflus returning for another season despite speculation from earlier this season about his future, according to league sources.

The Bears have won recently, playing inspired football, and have more draft capital than any team in the league. They have had enough change in the past to want to try to be stable now.

DENVER BRONCOS: Coach Sean Payton has left his stamp on the organization, moving on from certain veteran players during this season and then benching Russell Wilson toward the end of the campaign.

Some around the league say there still will be a decision that must be made on the future of GM George Paton, who before he took the Denver job was regarded as one of the league's top evaluators and commanded leaguewide respect.

Payton and Paton have worked well together this season, and Payton is known to respect Paton and his abilities. But Payton has significant authority and influence over the shaping of the team's football operation.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: The Buccaneers are one win away from winning the NFC South, but should they stumble and lose their second straight game, there are some around the league who say they believe that tough decisions about the team's coaching staff could come into play.

A win Sunday over the last-place Panthers likely would take care of that, but a loss would open it up to speculation considering the Buccaneers would have closed out their season with two straight losses -- one at home in a flat performance against the Saints, the next on the road in what is expected to be a quiet, empty stadium in Carolina.

    

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